Liz Cheney's Fearmongering Campaign Against Terror Trial Lawyers Blows up in Her Face

Human Rights

The "al Qaeda Seven" ad released last week by Liz Cheney and her Keep America Safe cohorts has been roundly (and rightly) condemned across the political spectrum (or as one Salon writer put it, by "just about everyone who's not a Cheney family member or close family friend"). The ad is an ugly ploy that does nothing less than smear Obama's Department of Justice lawyers as shadowy extensions of al Qaeda. "Whose values do they share?" a male voice intones, as Osama bin Laden (or someone who looks a lot like him) flashes in the background.

"It is just baseless to suggest that [these DoJ officials] share al Qaeda values," one conservative told Sam Stein of the HuffingtonPost last week. "… [T]hey didn't actually say it but I think it was a fair implication of what they were saying."


While Keep America Safe board member William Kristol defended the ad and CNN's Wolf Blitzer treated its content as legitimate news -- Blitzer was forced to apologize on Friday for on-screen graphics that included the phrases "DEPT. OF JIHAD?" and "Al Qaeda 7?" -- other conservatives quickly distanced themselves from it. Over the weekend, a letter was circulated that was signed by 19 conservative Republicans -- among them, former Bush officials -- disavowing its message.

"The signers include former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, John Ashcroft's No. 2, and Peter Keisler, who served as acting attorney general during President Bush's second term," Politico's Ben Smith, who obtained a copy of the letter, reported Monday morning.

The swift backlash against Liz Cheney has come as something of a surprise, given how squarely aligned some of her current detractors are with other parts of the Cheney platform. At the Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman points out the signers David Rivkin and Lee Casey "are an op-ed-writing team of former GOP legal officials who defend practically every terrorism-related policy pushed by the Bush administration."

Other signatories include, of all people, Cully Stimson, the Pentagon official in charge of detainee policy who resigned for exactly the same offense that the Cheneyites committed and the letter condemns. Yes, they've lost that guy.

As Ackerman shows, what is ironic about the letter and the conservative response to the Keep America Safe ad is that it involves some of the very same people who not only helped design the Bush era detention program but also deliberately politicized the process of prosecuting terror suspects.

"Cheney can't even keep all the Cheneyites on her side," Matthew Yglesias wrote Monday morning.

So what accounts for the criticism? Lack of subtlety, for one. Liz Cheney has been criticized before for going too far in her fear-mongering attacks on the Obama administration, for example, when she described Barack Obama last year as "an American president who seems to be afraid to defend America," -- a comment made in apparent defense of the birther movement. ("Are you saying (that) because he's a Kenyan?" CNN's Larry King asked, to which she replied, "No.")

The fact that many Republicans are distancing themselves from Cheney may just speak to the existing divisions within the GOP; Cheney has become a polarizing figure on the right, given her strident and continued defense of, say, waterboarding, and several of her current critics have a history of criticizing her father.

But the broader, unfortunate reality is that many Bush-era conservatives have found little to complain about with Obama's DOJ and so may be more inclined to defend it. Reports that the administration may do a major league flip-flop on its decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts in civilian courts are only the latest potential example of Bush-era policies that the Obama's Justice Department has kept in place, from warrantless wiretapping to denying habeas corpus rights to prisoners at Bagram, to its embrace of preventive detention for prisoners at Guantanamo. Were Obama's record a real departure from that of the Bush administration, these conservatives may well have little to say against an ad like Liz Cheney's.

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